Monday, June 18, 2007

Turkey’s military to military ties with Russia growing

Today's Zaman, Turkey

Military relations between Turkey and Russia have been growing as Turkish Air Forces Commander Gen.

Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül paid a three-day visit to Moscow Sept. 15 last year upon invitation from Russian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov.

Faruk Cömert, in what is said to be the first visit by a Turkish Air Forces commander to this country since the establishment of diplomatic relations 87 years ago, returned home last Friday with the decision to set up a hot line between the two countries' air force commanders. Cömert was reciprocating the visit of the then Russian air force commander to Turkey in 2004.

But both Turkish and Russian diplomatic and military sources ruled out that the growing trust between the militaries of both countries, reflected in the increased high-level military visits by top commanders, should be interpreted as part of an alleged growing tendency within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to liken itself to the rather tough Russian military.

"Russia does not think that Turkey's acting like the bad boy of NATO will serve Russia's interests. On the contrary, Moscow has been seeking good relations with NATO and a good NATO ally like Turkey will serve and currently serves the Russian interest. For example, it was through Turkish intervention that Russia participated in this year's European and NATO navy commanders' meeting, held once a year," said a Russian military analyst in Moscow to Today's Zaman in a telephone interview.

A hot line contact already exists between the navy commanders of both countries with the primary goal of diffusing any tension that might erupt in the Black Sea as Moscow decided to join in late December of last year the Turkey-initiated Black Sea Harmony operation to monitor and deter all sorts of asymmetric threats including the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction and human trafficking.

Russia appointed almost a month ago a lieutenant colonel as a liaison officer to the Karadeniz Ereğlisi, the Turkish headquarters for the Black Sea Harmony operation. Confidential communication systems required to ensure the success of the operations within Black Sea Harmony have already been coordinated between the navies of both countries.

A joint Turkish-Russian Black Sea Harmony operation will also mark the first time that the navies of the two former foes, until the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, will jointly operate against threats.

Turkey has been providing NATO with information on its findings in the Black Sea concerning asymmetric threats via the Black Sea Harmony operation.

But Ankara declined to allow heavy US involvement in the Black Sea through NATO's Active Endeavour operations in the Mediterranean over fears that it might pave the way for revisions in the 1936 Montreux Treaty, which gives Turkey control over the strategic Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.

Economic interests as well as security enhancement are now at stake in this energy-rich, strategically important Black Sea region.

With the membership of Bulgaria and Romania in NATO in 2004 and to the EU in 2007, Russia’s influence in the Black Sea region, a strategically crucial area connecting the Balkans with the Caucasus as well as East and Central Europe with Turkey, has declined while US influence has increased.

By joining the Black Sea Harmony operations Russia, thus, seeks to neutralize the US in the Black Sea.

Ankara has the best and the most Western-oriented naval force in the region while Russia, though deprived of ownership of the now Ukrainian shipyard on the Black Sea, holds one of the best naval powers and has been building a naval base at its oil cargo hub at Novorossiisk.

In addition to now being a party to the Black Sea Harmony operation initiated by Turkey in 2004, Russia is also a member of the Black Sea Naval Cooperation task force, known as Blackseafor, which aims to enhance cooperation between Black Sea navies.

Despite growing military to military relations between Turkey and Russia, the level of ties between the two countries in military procurement projects has not been satisfying Moscow.

In the past seven years Russia has not even been able to sell one bullet to Ankara, says the Russian military sources that Today’s Zaman contacted by telephone in Moscow.

“For a military industry relationship to be established between Turkey and Russia, we may perhaps need trust to be further achieved between the militaries of both countries,” said a retired Turkish general.

Russia declines to bid in satellite and long-range missile projects

With Turkey a NATO member since 1952, the Turkish military tradition of using Western weaponry systems, meanwhile, plays an important factor in the failure of a sound defense industry cooperation ties to be set up between the two countries, said Turkish defense industry experts.

But at the same Turkish experts also recall that Turkey has entered into cooperation with South Korea and lately with Pakistan despite Ankara’s reluctance in setting up a sound defense industry cooperation with Russia.

As a strong sign of Russian dissatisfaction over the alleged negative Turkish approach to forge defense industry ties with this country, Russian companies declined to bid in Turkey’s satellite acquisition project estimated to cost around $250 million as well as the acquisition of four long-range aerial missiles worth around $1.2 billion.

In addition, Russia neither sent an official delegation to the eighth International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF07) held in Ankara in late May nor were its defense companies ready at the fair except for a Kazan defense industry company stand opened with only few representatives from the company.

This runs contrary to the earlier high Russian presence at Turkish defense industry fairs.

According to the Russian military sources in Moscow that Today’s Zaman interviewed, the main reason for Russian frustration that has prompted it to decline in participating in Turkey’s two major projects stem from the Russian feeling that its country, known for its still strong arms industry, were being used by Turkey.

The Russian invitation as a second runner in now the cancelled attack helicopter project in the second half of the 1990s to force US Bell to reduce its price in King Cobra helicopters continue the bitter feeling that Russia has been experiencing over what it has perceived as being used by Ankara against the US.

Turkey and Russia have joint defense committee meetings held once a year, with the last one taking place in November of last year in Ankara.

Turkey has turned down a Russian offer to negotiate at government levels on selling satellite and long range S-300 missiles to Turkey instead of competing in both tenders.

Russia sought to negotiate directly with the Turkish government instead of bidding in both projects due to a strong belief on the Russian side that Moscow has been quite good and famous in both systems that it did not have to compete.

US companies which can no longer compete in Turkish tenders due to what they term as tough procurement terms and conditions that seek among other things government approval of export licenses as a condition for the companies to bid in the projects have also been seeking equipment sales on Foreign Military Sales (FMS) conditions that do not allow much room for maneuvering in boosting Turkish defense industry.

US Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are bidding in Turkey’s long-range missile project with Patriots under FMS conditions.

Turkey released a Request for Information (RfI) early in March of this year for the acquisition of four long-range air and missile defense systems code named T-Loramids to meet the requirements of the Turkish Air Forces Command.

The TSK has long been planning to acquire long-range missiles to strengthen its capabilities to deter both ballistic and conventional missile threats.

Russia also believed that there has been a political decision in Turkey to buy US Patriots and that there has been no reason for Russia to compete in this project for nothing.

However, in addition to Russia, the US as well as French and South Korean companies declined to bid in Turkey’s 0.8 resolution reconnaissance and surveillance satellite system acquisition project code named Gokturk and opened for competition in late 2006.

The UK’s EADS Astrium, Israel’s IAI, Germany’s OHB-SYSTEM as well as Italy’s TELESPAZIO companies responded to the Request for Proposals (RfP) released on July 14, 2006 by the Undersecretariat of the Defense Industry (SSM) and terminated on Dec. 18.

US Lockheed Martin, which earlier showed interest in the project, did not respond to the RfP due to the existing problem of the terms and conditions of the Turkish military contracts.

In the meantime, Russian companies have decided to compete in Turkey’s acquisition of anti-tank missiles as well as heavy lift helicopter tenders with the belief that in both projects Russia will seriously be taken into consideration.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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